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Chapman: Caring about dementia

By Staff | Nov 21, 2014

One of my greatest fears is seeing one of my parents suffer from a form of dementia. From a young age, I heard my mom talk about her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease and the difficulty of not being able to converse and experience the things they were used to.

It is hard for me to not think of the genetic predisposition and 20 percent increase of someone suffering from dementia if a parent had it.

Curiosity led me to Heart of America Library, where the second meeting in a three-part discussion on dementia care was held Tuesday. Kirsten Frantsvog, a licensed counselor and regional care consultant with the Alzheimers Association, hosted the seminar.

Frantsvog, also a pastor, delivered an incredibly informative presentation titled “Caring Through the Holidays.” While you may not have any immediate family members suffering from dementia, you may in the future as early signs are often unnoticed or ignored due to a lack of education. You may also be visiting family and friends during the holidays and understanding what a family or caregiver is going through is important to minimize stress on all involved, including the person with dementia.

A few notes from Frantsvog’s presentation will follow and anyone interested in listening to her should plan on attending the third session – “Understanding Memory Loss” – at 5:15 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the library. Please consider attending or finding a friend or family member to attend. If attendance is too low, the sessions are less likely to happen in the future – when you may need this information most.


Frantsvog encouraged a small group in attendance to think of the holidays. Attendees expressed anxiety about having lots of visitors and feeling the pressure to live up to old traditions. Frantsvog said the holidays tend to remind her of picture-perfect Norman Rockwell paintings and it’s important that people realize Thanksgiving and Christmas are not going to be perfect.

Consider the feelings of caregivers and those with dementia. You don’t want to unsettle someone with dementia with commotion. A quiet room should be set off, so the person with dementia can retreat to a setting he or she is more accustomed to. Though dementia patients tend to enjoy the presence of children and pets, according to Frantsvog, people still have routines and visits and stays should be well planned to accommodate the person with dementia. Don’t overwhelm a dementia patient with tons of decorations. A Christmas tree and some decorations are fine.

A caregiver can prepare the dementia patient for the arrival of less familiar visitors by sharing photographs of the visitors. Talking about those people and reminiscing also can help. Visitors can be prepared by speaking with the caregiver and gaining a better understanding of what to expect from the dementia patient. A caregiver may be stressed by fear of guests being uncomfortable with the cognitive changes in the affected person. Communication on both ends can alleviate fears and anxieties. Visits earlier in the day are recommended.

Frantsvog joked about making lutefisk for the holidays, a tradition on the Norwegian side of her family. She said the younger generations are unlikely to carry the tradition, but said it’s good to provide tradition for the elderly, if possible.

Some caregivers put too much pressure on themselves to make the perfect meal. If carryout or catered meals will save time and stress, that’s OK. People will still enjoy the food and the company. (This was a good personal reminder as I tend to give my mom grief for not baking lasagna on Christmas, like she did for years. Sorry, mom!)

Frantsvog encouraged caregivers to ask for help, keep doing activities they enjoy, do Christmas shopping online instead of going to the mall and give oneself permission to say “no”.

Frantsvog emphasized the importance of music, especially with late-stage dementia patients. Singing carols can be comforting as music can bring responses that normal conversation may not. Favorite music of the patient can make for a great Christmas gift, along with easy clothing to get in and out of, stuffed animals and identification bracelets.

Women are two times as likely to have dementia and one in six women will develop Alzheimer’s in their life. In comparison, one in 11 women will develop breast cancer.

There is much more to learn and resources are available online at alz.org/mmnd. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 hotline is 800-272-3900. Consider going to the next meeting in Rugby.

Be courteous and thoughtful this holiday season. Many of our family members and friends will appreciate the extra thought even if they cannot express it.

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